While going through some old folders, I happened upon a copy of THE BEST REVIEW OF ALL TIME that I’ve ever received. There have been plenty of great reviews of my work – countless great reviews – too many to count – it’s as if the last ten years has been as far from a series of damning indictments of my work as you could get.
But this stands out. In 2004 while at the Australian National University, I undertook a creative writing course entitled Story to Script, as part of which we had to submit scripts for our classmates to review. This was the response of one fellow student to my short script The Cigarettes:
I found this short piece really disturbing. I had a very strong reaction to the abduction and abuse of the young boy. The whole scenario seems pointless and sadistic and hence, very depressing.
It is hard to comment constructively on such a short piece especially given the limited character development and that it is not clear what is being aimed for in terms of genre/impact.
The dialogue of the petrol sniffers is so unbelievable that I wondered if it was meant to be humorous (but failed to see the humour). People who sniff petrol would be barely coherent let alone be discerning enough to care/know who was singing Bette Davis Eyes or to know anything about the roots of rock and roll. If they ever did know, the permanent brain damage caused by petrol sniffing would severely impair their memories.
It is not clear why/how the victim sleeps through the tattooing – no doubt a further violation of his body/liberty.
all the boys say she’s a spy… she’s got...
The script in question (all 1.75 pages of it) after the break:
scene one: a children’s playground, 3.30pm
swingsets, a slide, monkey-bars, a sandpit. three teenagers: bekken, manson and malkin wander in with a tin of petrol.
bekken: WE GONNA SNIFF THE PETROL! WE GONNA SNIFF IT GOOD!
manson: settle down, bekken, the kids are still in school.
bekken: they won’t mind. we’re just going to snuffle this up and then go watch a movie.
malkin: awesome! the new Harry Potter movie!
they each take a turn sniffing the petrol
malkin: it doesn’t smell very good.
manson: it makes you feel sick.
bekken: can you guys hear that?
bekken: gwyneth paltrow’s cover of ‘Bette Davis Eyes’.
manson: AAARRRGH! my brains are melting!
manson begins writhing on the ground. malkin grabs his head and shakes it from side to side.
malkin: MANSON! YOU’RE GOING TO DIE! YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!
bekken: all the boys say she’s a spy… she’s got… bette davis WAIT A MINUTE! guys! dudes! I’ll tell you what’s wrong with us! I’ll tell you what’s missing!
malkin: there’s no time for that now, bekken, manson’s going to die!
bekken: we need to be a rock and roll band!
there is an awed silence
manson: you’re not wrong.
malkin: a real, genuine rock and roll band that plays great music.
bekken: real rock and roll that goes back to the roots of it all, like chuck berry and elvis presley.
malkin: like the rolling stones.
manson: but what will we call ourselves?
‘THE CIGARETTES’ flashes up on screen
all three: all right!
scene two: primary school door
a group of primary school students walk out of school. they are happy. they are laughing and giggling.
a young boy named Victim comes out smiling with the others. he stops for a second. he stretches and the sun shines on him.
merrily, he peels an orange and throws the peel away as he skips down the path.
suddenly, Victim is grabbed by bekken, malkin and manson.
victim: help! help!
scene three: a tattoo parlour
Victim is asleep with his head slumped on a table. a tattooistis writing on his arm. bekken, malkin and manson stand around the room, totally still and silent.
the only noise is the buzzing of the needle.
scene four: victim’s home, dawn the next day
bekken, manson and malkin release a dopey Victim on to his front lawn. they sneak away quietly.
Victim tries to open the door, is too tired.
suddenly the door bursts open and there are his mother and father, both looking pale and drawn.
mother: where the hell have you been? we’ve been worried sick? we’ve been up all night!
father: what’s that?
mother and father see his arm. mother drops to her knees screaming. father’s face drains of blood and he can’t breathe.
camera zooms in on victim’s arm.
THE CIGARETTES! written large.
each of the characters gets a screen to themselves, with shots of them laughing at the camera, dancing and joking to a rock and roll song.